Its not easy to buy good quality cotton knits in Australia. I have NEVER bought a dark coloured tee-shirt that would not have looked badly faded after a single season, and sometimes after a couple of washes. Why is that? Why do bought tees go out of shape, fade badly and look disreputable after a short period of time? I’m sure the clothing industry knows the answer, and I’m sure built in obsolescence has a lot to do with it. Good quality fabrics dyed with colour fast dyes are available, but not in Australian shops. Not sure what it is like where you live.
Cotton can be colourfast, but you seem to have no option but to dye your own fabric. RIT or Dylon won’t do it, you need the experts. Dharma Trading has been an institution for textile artists for a long time, and their dyes are pretty bomb proof as far as fading is concerned. There is also an Australian dye specialist called Batik Oetoro. They used to be in Randwick near the Prince of Wales Hospital, but have moved, conveniently for me, to Newcastle. They do mail orders and their dyes and expert advice are great. Marian, my former art teacher, used to buy her fabric paints and dyes from them and they were fabulous quality. I also purchased some low temperature black dye called Cool Wool at Batik Oetoro and it has served me well with a number of fabric buying bargains, where the fabric was a beautiful wool but in an off colour that nobody wanted. Overdyeing with black of varying strength will either tone down the colour or obliterate it altogether. A print never disappears completely, but you can mute the colours or turn it into a subtle black on black design.
The op shop sheet I used to muslin the Zelda dress last week was showing signs of fading, too subtle to be apparent in the photos but visible in real life. I don’t think I would have worn the dress much because of that, but I really liked the shape. So I bit the bullet and decided to overdye it with Procion dyes to freshen up the fabric. I think the simple Tina Givens styles really need superior fabrics to come into their own. Linen would do it, silk certainly, or at least a cotton jacquard or gauze or a nice voile print. The utilitarian cotton I had used was pushing it, and the fact that it wasn’t pristine sure didn’t help.
The easiest way to dye is in the washing machine, as the process is rather long and pretty boring. It takes a good two hours all up to dye something a dark colour, less for a pastel, and you need to agitate the dye bath frequently, meaning you can’t do much else during that time. I couldn’t use my machine because it leaks and I didn’t want dye all over my laundry floor. You need to be very careful not to splash the dye on anything while agitating the dye bath, or while mixing up the dye powder. The process uses a lot of water, especially for rinsing out the dye, but I am very happy with the result. The cotton now looks brand new, and hopefully will keep its fresh colour for a long time.
One word of warning. Dyeing can be a bit unpredictable, even for the experienced, and the colours can be hard to match. When I overdyed the purple I was trying to tone the colour down more towards a dark jacaranda, but it ended up close to a dark blue. Not a tragedy and I rather like it, but not what I had aimed for.
One thing to remember is that dyeing is transparent, not opaque, so the original colour of the fabric will influence the outcome. Any stains or blotches won’t disappear completely either, so a good hot wash to remove any stains is essential. Here are the instructions if you are interested.